WASHINGTON—Within 72-hours of arriving in DC, the 2012 Armenian National Committee of America Leo Sarkisian interns had jumped into the foreign policy scene, bounced into the think tank world, plunged into Congressional politics and danced their way into the hearts of one of the oldest Armenian-American communities in the country.
Nine student leaders from across the U.S. and Canada travelled to Washington D.C. for this unique eight-week intensive training program that provides young Armenians with the tools necessary to effectively advocate Armenian-American issues in their communities and become the leaders of tomorrow.
“The ANCA Leo Sarkisian Program is not just an internship, but it is a training ground to prepare the next generation of community leaders that would advocate for the Armenian Cause, said ANCA Legislative Affairs Director Raffi Karakashian. “After their eight weeks here in the nation’s capital, they will go back to their home towns and use all they’ve learned to leverage our outreach and engagement with our community, government officials, the media, and coalition partners.”
Hitting the Ground Running
The interns hit the ground running, participating at a think tank forum featuring remarks by former US Ambassador to Armenia John Evans and former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Kazlaurich titled “Averting Conflict in the Caucasus – Is Russia a Partner or a Spoiler” sponsored by the World Affairs Council and Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Later in the week, the interns had an in-depth dialogue about the foreign policy challenges facing Artsakh with NKR Representative to the U.S., Robert Avetisyan.
Interns spent the first of many days on Capitol Hill thanking legislators for their support on key Armenian American concerns as highlighted in compilations of articles spotlighting their efforts, as published in Armenian American press. That day ended on a sweet note as interns joined Congressional staff at the Annual Ice cream Social on Capitol Hill, hosted by the International Dairy Foods Association.
The ANCA interns then had an opportunity to meet with participants of the Terjenian-Thomas Assembly internship program, at a mixer graciously hosted this year at the Armenian Assembly offices.
On the weekend, the interns mixed the serious with the social on a trip to Richmond, Virginia, where they visited the Virginia Holocaust Museum, which featured a special exhibit on the Armenian Genocide, coordinated by the St. James Armenian Church Genocide Education Committee, using materials from the Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA). Later the group bonded with the Richmond, Virginia Armenian-American community over music, shourchbars and backgammon at the 66th Annual Hai Tahd picnic, organized by the ANC of Richmond.
A Rigorous Application Process
Each of the interns was selected following an intensive application process in their respective ANC region, which weighed their qualifications, their local activism and their drive to make a difference on a national scale. This year’s intern class is comprised of current, prospective and recent university graduates from across the country and Canada, including: Aram Balian, Garen Bostanian, Grigor Grigorian, Carina Khanjian, Joseph Kazazian, Kyle Movsessian, Ara Nerssessian, David Oganesyan and Armen Sahakyan.
All are active members of Armenian-American community life- from the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), the Armenian Student’s Association (ASA), Homenetmen, ARS, Armenian Church Youth Organization of America (ACYOA) and, of course, their local ANC – and are set to gain the necessary hands-on knowledge to augment their involvement upon their return.
For over 25 years, the Leo Sarkisian Internship Program has been an integral part of a growing effort to provide Armenian-American youth greater opportunities to explore careers on Capitol Hill, in the field of foreign policy, in key Washington foreign policy think tanks and media outlets. It is part of the larger ANCA Gateway Program, which is designed to help university students and graduates find internships and permanent positions in Congressional offices, as well as a host of government agencies and other political and policy-related groups.
Interns, who participate in a wide variety of projects based on their individual interests, are given the opportunity to gain hands-on experience within the American political system. They participate in bi-weekly lecture series featuring guest lecturers, including public officials, D.C. professionals and community leaders. Summer housing is provided at the Hovig Apo Saghdejian Capital Gateway House, named in memory of Hovig Apo Saghdejian, the 23-year-old student and Armenian community activist from Fresno, CA, who tragically lost his life in a car accident in 2004.
Meet the 2012 ANCA Leo Sarkisian Interns
Learn more about each of the 2012 ANCA Leo Sarkisian interns below and find out why they chose to participate in this unique leadership training experience. Community members can follow the ANCA interns throughout the next 8-weeks through photos and blog postings on the ANCA Facebook page- facebook.com/ancagrassroots – and on the ANCA (anca.org), Asbarez (asbarez.com) and Armenian Weekly (armenianweekly.com) websites.
Aram Balian a recent graduate from St. Albans School and prospective student at Columbia University, has been involved in his local community as an executive member of the Washington DC AYF Sevan Junior and ACYOA chapters and is a published writer in both Armenian and English in the Armenian Weekly and abroad. Aram saw the internship opportunity as a perfect way to expand his knowledge about Hai Tahd and the issues facing the Armenian-American community as a whole. “I am excited to learn more about the issues facing the Armenian communities in the Diaspora and the homeland. I am confident the internship will provide me with the necessary tools and opportunities I would need in order to fight for Armenian-American interests.”
A sophomore studying Philosophy and Political Science at College of the Canyons, Garen Bostanian, has always had the desire to expand his Armenian-American activism from his local community in Los Angeles to the nation’s capital in Washington D.C. “One of the most unique aspects of this internship is it’s location in Washington D.C. Being down the street from Capitol Hill allows me to meet important figures, while advocating to political representatives about the Armenian Cause.”
Grigor Grigorian, a recent graduate from University of Toronto with Bachelors degree in Political Science and History, has always been fascinated with politics and has worked closely with many of his community’s Federal and Provincial candidates. As a pre-law candidate and as the president of the New Democratic Party of Mississauga South, Grigor is impatient to utilize the skills he attains from the Leo Sarkisian Internship Program to strengthen his local community. “After completing the eight-week long Leo Sarkisian internship program in Washington, D.C., I hope to take back with me the necessary skills I have obtained in order to strengthen my regional ANC office in Toronto, as well as educate others about the Armenian Cause.”
A recent graduate in Political Science from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Carina Khanjian, has been a long-time active participant of her local community, as a member of the Hollywood “Musa Dagh” AYF chapter, Los Angeles Homenetmen Chapter Scouts and ARS “Mayr” Chapter. Carina believes that the ANCA, in specific the Leo Sarkisian program, serves as a tool to prepare our next generation of leaders, dedicated to protecting their communities and their homeland. She was influenced by Mahatama Gandhi’s wise words,“ You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” Khanjian explained that, “ I decided to apply to the Leo Sarkisian internship program because I was confident it would provide me with the tools and training that I would need in order to be that change in the world.”
Hailing from Glendale, California, Joseph Kazazian, recently received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). Prior to arriving to Washington D.C., Kazazian has been an active member of the ANCA-WR’s, California State Affairs Committee, and has served a judiciary position in the All-Armenian Students Association (All-ASA). “Armenian- American Grassroots activism has always been my passion, my pulse and the rhythm to my life,” explained Kazazian, who was also a former ANC-Western Region Intern. “It is doing this job in particular that gives me the most fulfillment as an individual, knowing that I am actively engaged in protecting the interests and promoting the well being of the 3,000 year old nation which I belong to,” Kazazian concluded.
Kyle Movsessian has recently graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Political Science from the Rutgers State University of New Jersey and has been actively involved in the Armenian community of his hometown of Ringwood NJ, through organizations such as the Armenian Youth Federation, Rutgers Armenian Club, and the Armenian National Committee of America. “Despite having spent four months interning with the ANCA as a Capital Gateway Fellow, I attended the Leo Sarkisian program in order to experience Washington D.C in a more structured environment,” explained Movsessian. “The ANCA has provided my colleagues and I the opportunity to meet with accomplished individuals such as former Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans and House Representative, Adam Schiff,” he continued. “These events are of great interest to me both as a politically active American Armenian and because these resources will greatly assist me in beginning my career here on Capitol Hill,” concluded Movsessian.
Ara Nerssessian is a Business major at Worcester State University, where he became involved with the ANCA through his Philosophy Professor Dr. Henry Theriault. Prior to his acceptance into the Leo Sarkisian Internship Program, Nerssessian incorporated his passion for film with the Armenian Cause, by creating videos for his local ANC Boston Chapter. Nerssessian explains how the internship is strengthening his film skills, as well as teaching him about his heritage: “I took up filmography to tell a story and everyday I’ve been a part of the Leo Sarkisian Internship, I’ve seen the story unfold,” Nerssessian explains. “The internship is completely immersing me into the Armenian community as I learn about history, politics, culture and language.”
A recent graduate of Thomas Wootton High School, incoming student at the University of Maryland, majoring in Finance, David Oganesyan saw the ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship program as a good opportunity to not only become more familiar with his Armenian heritage and the Armenian Cause, but to also meet influential politicians who fight for Armenian-American issues. “Meeting so many influential figures in American politics who deal with our issues is invaluable. This experience picks up where mainstream media coverage ends,” said Oganesyan.
Armen Sahakyan, a sophomore at Bloomfield College studying International Political Economy, thought of the Leo Sarkisian Program as a perfect opportunity to expand his knowledge about foreign policy and American politics, as well as his means of advocating and advancing the Armenian Cause. “Learning about the internal structure of the United States Government in college is very useful in completing my personal ANCA project,” he explained. “The U.S. system of governance is quite complex, as each agency also has its own internal dynamic,” noted Sahakyan, who was born in Yerevan, Armenia and moved to the United States in 2008. “By working with several Federal and State Departments on a daily basis, I further perfect my knowledge and skills, which I will utilize throughout my life for a just resolution of our Cause,” he concluded.